Mt. Lebanon edges Bethel Park in Class 6A battle

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Saturday, March 6, 2021 | 7:09 PM


Senior Morgan Palmer drained a key 3-pointer in overtime then connected on a free throw with 4.5 seconds remaining to give Mt. Lebanon a thrilling 59-58 overtime win over Bethel Park in the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals Saturday afternoon.

The win for the Blue Devils avenged a semifinal loss to the Black Hawks last season.

“I give a lot of credit to our kids who just kept battling,” Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker said. “We’ve dealt with adversity all year. I love our grit and our composure.”

Expected to be a defensive grind, both teams came out playing a more wide-open style of basketball.

The Black Hawks were hot early on, leading 18-12 after one quarter and extending to 26-14 three minutes into the second quarter.

However, points were hard to come by for Bethel Park after that. Mt. Lebanon closed the gap with a 13-2 advantage to close out the first half with the Black Hawks up, 28-27.

Mt. Lebanon started having great success on the offensive glass, taking advantage of second and third opportunities in a trend that started midway through the second quarter and continued into the third quarter.

“We talked before the game about trust and belief,” Oldaker said. “Trust each other and believe in each other. Again, it comes down to grit.”

A back-and-fourth third quarter ended with the Blue Devils leading, 39-35. However, mounting fouls started to take their toll in the second half on a Black Hawks team that isn’t very deep.

The officiating crew was consistent in that they allowed physical play in the paint with contact underneath without a whistle, for the most part, while fouls for hand checks between the top of the key and the free-throw line were handed out like it was the first of the month.

The slow boil started to spill over when three Bethel Park starters — Riley Miller, Emma Dziezgowski and Reagan Milliken — fouled out in the fourth quarter and into overtime.

Black Hawks coach Jonna Burke received a bench warning and a Bethel Park fan even had to be escorted out of the building.

With teammates exiting, Bethel Park senior Olivia Westphal took over. She scored 23 of her team’s 25 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“You have to respect Olivia Westphal. She played her heart out,” Oldaker said. “We tried to defend her, but she’s just so good.”

The Duquesne recruit ended up with a game-high 39 points and came up just shy with a desperate 30-foot heave at the buzzer.

“What a great player,” Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said of Westphal. “She made some heroic shots near the end to tie the game. I told our kids that sometimes you don’t realize how (good) she was until she’s not there anymore. She’s meant so much for our program the last four years.”

In overtime, just when it looked like Westphal would be the hero for the short-handed Hawks, junior Reagan Murdoch and Palmer hit back-to-back 3-pointers to turn a deficit into a lead for Mt. Lebanon.

With the game tied at 58, Mt. Lebanon had the basketball in a half-court set when Westphal came up to challenge Palmer at the right elbow while she dribbled near the foul line, heading toward the corner. A foul was called with 4.5 seconds left.

“The kids should have been allowed to play it out,” a frustrated Burke said. “It was a hard-fought game. It always is against them. There are others things we could have done throughout the course of the game to not have it come down to that at the end.

“I’m heartbroken for the kids. That was not a good way to end it.”

Palmer hit the first shot, which Blue Devils fans will remember as the game winner.

After losing in the WPIAL championship game to North Allegheny in overtime last year, Bethel Park must again deal with heartbreak as a 15-4 season concludes.

Mt. Lebanon (17-3) will now get a shot at dethroning the Tigers when they meet in a 6A semifinals clash on Wednesday.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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